When life doesn't go as planned. What now - and how?
When life doesn't go as planned. What now - and how?
The wheels come off.
Your dream goes poof.
And everything you thought would be “your life" — is no longer the same.
Nothing is the same — and never will be.
Everyone gets shaken, at some point in their life — some, more than others. Denying that it will occur, or disregarding when it happens to ourselves, or others, will only make the shaking that much harder.
It happens through illness, divorce, accidents, death, financial fallout, tragedy… and many other situations. But how we process it and get through it, over time, will determine if we have truly been successful at life, lived well.
After a number of years on the life docket, we may go through a “life shaking" several times. It’s been twice for me, thus far. The first one was the shocker. Some disruptions we might have time to prepare for — and others catch us totally off-guard.
When - and how - does mourning the former life end?
Dealing with the grief of any of these circumstances is enough to suck the very breath out of us. It paralyzes and numbs us to anything but enduring sadness and pain. And the one thing that we must give in to — is the fact that it takes time — and usually 1-3 years to arrive at a point where we feel as if we are functioning more normal. Although, it’s a new normal — and never quite the same.
It changes us.
And if we process it correctly — for it changes us for the better.
That’s what divorce did to me.
It caught me off-guard.
And it was like a person, very close to me, died suddenly.
While my marriage of 22 years was full of wonderful family memories — the relationship was not. It was ridden with strife and emotional duress. Although we both thought we did all we could — it wasn’t enough to save us from the inevitable deterioration. But, like termites that invisibly do what they do to undermine structural strength — the relationship foundation was disintegrating.
I had no idea that my own personal self-esteem was also withering away over the course of the marriage. And by the time everything unraveled, I was literally hanging on by a few threads. And the grief of losing life-as-I-knew-it was almost too much to bear. That’s what loss does. Loss of loved ones, health, home, or country is traumatic. Yet, we know from what others courageously share, that there is breakthrough, and while it’s not “option A” — we can still live with amazing joy, peace and contentment with “option B” — although the struggle to accept it is...
Just no fun. So while on the “time road” — things are sucky for awhile — and that’s when we make the choice. The choice to ease ourselves into “getting back to doing things”. I resisted. There was a part of me that just wanted to be alone, isolated, and depressed, because it didn’t require any energy. But there was that other part of me that was exhausted with the emotion of grief. So ready to get beyond it, and not feel the sharpness of the pain. And that requires conscious effort with the intentional decision of which scenario do you want more?
As Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) said in her recent courageous, public post about the loss of her beloved husband, "I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice.” And that is so true. The response to that choice is the determining factor for how we will survive and thrive, in the time necessary to recover.
Patience is a virtue.
And virtues are practically lost and extinct in today’s society. We don’t have much patience for others — and often, much less, for ourselves. Because, we want everything now. We are accustomed to instant gratification, and pressure mounts when we push the envelope to normalcy without processing through it.
Do what matters.
What matters in the dark times of life is that we don’t do it alone. If we must reach out to others in a similar place, or loved ones and friends — it’s critical to allow “them” to be around — and to talk it through. Not doing this is the biggest mistake most make. It’s the wrong choice. Those who know you best, or who know (from experience) what you’re going through are processing it, themselves — from their own perspective. Call it solice, support, comfort… it’s needed by both sides. By the person going through it — and by those who are holding them up in the journey.
The keys to getting to the other side are:
1. Accepting the time factor.
There is no other way through, around, over or under it. Time is the only way things heal. We want to rush it, camouflage it, sweep it away or run from it — but that only delays it all — and results in an even longer and grueling timeline to work through it.
2. Making the choice to allow (not resist or deny) the process.
Shutting out or denying the hurt and pain is the same as trying to cover up a hole in your floor with a rug. It may look the same, but one day, you end up falling right in - even deeper.
3. Including certain other people in the long journey.
It doesn’t have to be a crowd. Just 2 to 3 of "your people" who will listen, and just sit, go, and be — with you. It’s a powerful catharsis for everyone allowed “in”. It helps us — to help others. And then when the tables turn — the privilege is returned. Don’t deny this opportunity to those who love you — friend, family member, or fellow “trench dweller”. We are here to receive His love first — and then share love, give love, and be love to others. This is one of the greatest ways we can share, love, and give.
4. Talking about it with "the few" in the small support circle.
As the time does pass — a few days, a couple of weeks — make the effort to talk and respond to others rather than avoiding them. Again, it’s not easy, but it gets us “back” faster by talking about it, crying, screaming and even agonizing with those who will simply listen. No one has the magic pill to make it all go away. But the formula does give normalcy back, sooner.
5. Acknowledging it to the larger community.
It’s a new normal. And it’s the option B you didn’t plan for, or even consider. It’s completely ok not to like it, but to acknowledge that — and to be grateful for it.
Yes. Grateful for it.
Because eventually — over time — it does become good. Maybe even great. Just never the same.
So for those memories you have of the previous life, option A, you will be able to visit them easier, and with less pain...
And does the pain ever truly go away? The emotions, the hurt? No. But it does diminish, and new memories begin to flourish, bringing a new and deeper joy to the person we’ve grown to be.
Every person I’ve met who has been through this process, and made it to the other side will tell you they are different. And, it’s a better different. One who doesn’t take as much for granted, and who has a deeper and more profound gratitude for what life does to grow us into more compassionate, loving, grateful, respectful, patient and kind people.
We can’t see it, but we trust, by faith, in an all-loving God who never forsakes us. He’s just helping us to become more of what He created us to be. It’s tough a lot of times... and the victory in the pain is the strength and comfort He provides, day by day.
Later in life, when we are able to look back on the impact of the epic life detour, we see the positive, the good, and realize that, there was a great purpose for your life with option B that couldn't happen with option A. There always is.
Until next time...